It’s been a busy first few weeks of the year. I’m not feeling sick anymore, which is excellent. I’ve been able to start doing my exercises again and I’m clawing back ground on tasks to be done around the homestead. It feels good to feel good. Aside from the heat and the tiredness aspects. We had a weirdly cool, stormy, showery patch, which was most excellent, because the rest of the time it’s been really hot. Now it’s back to stinkin’ hot. We are very thankful for the rain and I, in particular, am thankful that God watered my garden for me before we went on holiday. I have spent a lot of time butchering chickens. I had to go back to doing three at a time to get them done, skinning some of them to save time. A few times I got to the point where I was telling myself I was over it, but if there’s one thing my stubborn determination is good for it’s getting things done, even when I feel like giving up. I will be putting as much meat in our freezers as I can!
Continuing with the month of meat provision, some friends kindly brought us a few freshly caught fish one evening. They were whole and we haven’t dealt with whole fish before. Well, The Husband filleted a bit of fish back in his chef training days but not much, and that was a long time ago! Fortunately, I have chicken butchering skills, and he has general chef/food prep skills. I gutted the fish, which was faster than gutting chickens, though quite a bit more slippery, and he filleted them. I tried giving a fish head to our cat, Nala, but after a lick she walked off in indifference. I threw it to the chickens instead and they rushed upon it like a black and grey tornado, swarming around it as each tried to grab it and drag it off.
I made some pork stock (or broth), with pork bones bought from the butcher on special. I have learnt that the best way is to blanch the bones first to get rid of the scummy stuff, then roast them in the oven until they’re nicely browned, then simmer them in the pot with the other ingredients. I kept it simple with this one, just using onion, garlic and pepper. The flavour was great thanks to the roasting and the stock was nice and gelatinous, like a good stock should be. It is a far cry from what you can buy in the supermarket. Chicken stock is next on the list. I have a lot of parts in the freezer to be used, funnily enough.
The first wave of chicken butchering is over and I had a break for our camping holiday before the next one. I have culled all the most obvious young chickens that I didn’t want to keep. I realised that I shouldn’t have hatched so many chicks in spring. I mean, I didn’t know I was going to be pregnant, but still. In hindsight, I specifically wouldn’t have hatched so many of Jenny Cheeply’s eggs. She was the least best-quality hen but also of the Frodo line, tainted with rogue red feathers. Unfortunately for Jenny Cheeply, her offspring were too tainted with red feathers. You don’t know to what extent a chicken is carrying rogue colour genes until you assess their offspring. And the generations following. Many of JC’s sons had red feathers coming through on them, which had already led to her getting culled. But the final straw is that one of her daughters has red feathers coming through on her neck. Tooooo much tainting. For this reason I have decided not to keep any of Jenny Cheeply’s offspring.
Jenny Cheeply’s sister, Helen Cluck, has not had any offspring with red feathers so far. So I will keep exploring Frodo’s genetics through the avenue of her daughters.
I am down to five cockerels at present, aside from the youngest ones that are 9 weeks old. My favourites are the three black boys out of Morpheus and Winston Cheepers. They are all beautiful and it is hard to choose which one is best at the moment. But there is one that I can’t keep. He has a tag on his left leg. My practice now is to tag all chicks on their right leg unless there’s a possibility of a mix-up in who the mother was at hatching time. I also write a note about it with their name in my Flock Database. This dude could possibly have been mixed up with Helen Cluck Chick #4, who has turned out to be a girl. They were found hatched in the incubator at same time and I made the best guess about which one hatched first by looking at how wet they were and their egg shells were. If they had both been boys I might be able to tell which one was from which mum, but there’s too much uncertainty to risk keeping him. It matters because Helen Cluck is from the tainted Frodo line. I cannot keep any of her boys.
The other two cockerels are out of Jemima and Todd, so both different parents. One is blue and one is black. At the moment they aren’t as impressive as the Morpheus boys, but they’re still growing. I was considering an older blue Jemima boy but I realised his wings were to low. Some individuals have their wings held too low, which is not good in large fowl breeds. It can be hard to notice while they’re still growing, as everything is a bit gangly. Sometimes chickens hold their wings low in hot weather, which we have had a bunch of, so you have to watch them over a few different time periods to see if it is their natural stance. One of the reasons I chose not to keep one of our former roosters, Chippee Hackee, was because his wings were held too low. I don’t want this trait to pass on.
The veggie gardens are looking much better with the gardener back on duty. The Husband helped me to get the last of the overgrown tomato plants wound up their strings on the tomato structures. I didn’t set the best example for how much easier it is to grow them on strings. Once strung, however, maintenance became much easier and I much prefer it to having to tie tomatoes onto something. Aside from a couple of virus-struck plants, the tomatoes are doing really well. We have harvested a few from half of the varieties. The first to ripen were the yellow cherries ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’.
Things are getting a bit more serious with seed saving of varieties this year. I have tied organza bags over unopened flower buds on each of the tomato and pepper varieties so they don’t cross-pollinate. When the fruits start to form I will take off the bags and mark the fruiting stems with ribbons so I know which ones to save seeds from. The cucurbits – pumpkins, squashes and cucumbers, are a bit more involved so I haven’t started on them yet.
The Front Plot is my gardening pride and joy at the moment. Most of the weeds have been removed and it is full of growing vegetable plants. The oldest of the corn plants are huge and we are poised to eat the first cobs. They are doing much better than last summer, thanks to compost and mulch. And more rain so far. There are a lot of big tomatoes of four different varieties in there. The last two Jack Be Little pumpkins I planted by the potatoes are surprisingly still alive after their four predecessors got eaten by slugs and snails. They have been very sluggish to grow though, after being in their pots a bit too long.
In the main Veggie Garden we have all sorts of things growing. I’ve harvested some of the onions and pickled the first batch of gherkins. The Little Fulla was amazed when he saw the process and the end product in the jars, since we have been buying some from the supermarket. “You raised your own gherkins!” he exclaimed. We’ve been eating a lot of slicing cucumbers and our first of the climbing butter beans. I like looking at the bean bed as there are so many varieties in there and the ones climbing on the arch look especially fascinating. There are squashes and pumpkins coming along and the ground cherries, which I am patiently waiting to try for the first time.
The tomato in the Little Fulla’s veggie garden is romping away. It didn’t get pruned for a while but I’ve pruned it back to four leaders now. Being a very vigorous cherry tomato with small, marble-sized fruits, the Broad Ripple Yellow Currant would happily cope with laterals shooting all over the place. But now it can concentrate its growth upwards. It is well on it’s way to scrambling over The Little Fulla’s cabin roof, just as he wanted. He was excited to eat and share his first few tomatoes off it. He has beans on his bean plants now too, which we will let dry for shelling.
We ate a lot of plums and gave some away, but, sadly, they are all over and done with thanks to all the hot weather. They just ripened so fast on the tree this year. I didn’t get to preserve ANY since I was tied up with butchering, garden wrangling and parenting and The Husband was back at work. No plum chutney, no frozen sliced plums to put in our porridge… It is the first year I haven’t gotten to make anything with them. It is a sad plum year. I am now on the look-out for cheap stonefruit that we can preserve to use during the year.
To add to our fruit woes, the birds have suddenly gotten to our blueberries. And raspberries. It’s the blackbirds that are the problem. Usually people marvel at how we don’t have much trouble with birds. The problem is that Simba left a hole in more than just my heart. He was a great hunter and he not only scared the birds away but he kept the blackbird population in check. Nala is an old cat. The birds are hardly afraid of her anymore and she can’t be bothered with them! She would hardly care if they were bouncing all over her. I am going to have to start netting fruit for the first time here. Noooo!
Well, at least the sunflowers are still shining. Once the seeds start forming, you can bet they’ll be getting bags over them. The birds will not get my sunflower seeds.